Nawate Dori Street Matsumoto

Things To Do In Mutsumoto: Art, Castles & Wasabi

Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture has been attracting attention as a city of craftsmanship and art. Since there were many craftsmen in Matsumoto, manufacturing flourished throughout the ages.

In addition, in Matsumoto, a man named Muneyoshi Yanagi, better known as Soetsu Yanagi, advocated an art movement that believed that beauty is found in things that are useful in our daily lives, and this movement became widely known as Mingei (folk art).

With such a strong awareness of beauty and art, Matsumoto has many world-class museums and art galleries where you can see various art, from traditional craftsmanship to modern art.

In this article, we will introduce some of the best things to do in Matsumoto including the many great museums and art galleries in the area, where you can enjoy the scenery of Matsumoto Castle and the castle town while appreciating the arts.

Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Matsumoto Museum Of Art
Matsumoto Museum Of Art

Matsumoto City Museum of Art houses and exhibits many works by artists from Matsumoto, including Yayoi Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin © Matsumoto Museum Of Art
Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin © Matsumoto Museum Of Art

The Museum of Art is a comprehensive art museum rooted in the community as “an art museum in a forest of learning that opens the mind,” with four pillars: appreciation, expression, learning, and a place for exchange.

Matsumoto Museum Of Art
Museum Of Art Entrance

The collection exhibits thematic collections, which include works by avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama, sculptor Munehide Hosokawa, calligrapher Shinzan Kamijo, and other artists associated with the city of Matsumoto.

Matsumoto City Museum Of Art
Matsumoto  Museum Of Art collection

Special exhibitions are also held four times a year.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Jo and the Japan Alps

Matsumoto Castle was originally Fukashi Castle built in the Eisho Era of the Warring States Period and is the oldest existing castle keep in Japan and quite rightly a national treasure.

The contrast between the black and white colors of the castle and the Alpine mountains makes for a magnificent sight.

Matsumoto Castle
The mighty Crow Castle

The combination of the main keep and the moon viewing rooms built in the Taihei-era symbolizes the different periods of time and the contrast in design between times of war and peace.

Matsumoto Castle Moon Viewing Roon
The Moon Viewing Room can be seen on the left

This interlocking composite style keep is a unique structure that is not seen in any other existing castles.

The castle grounds are also a great place to stroll around and view the birdlife in the moat, see which plants are in season, or view the majestic fortress from various angles.

Ukiyo-e Museum of Japan

Japan Ukiyo e Museum
Japan Ukiyo e Museum

The remarkable and must-see Japan Ukiyoe Museum has a large collection of works by internationally acclaimed ukiyo-e artists such as Toshusai Sharaku, Utagawa Hiroshige, and Katsushika Hokusai.

Japan Ukiyo e Museum
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum

The Ukiyo-e Museum of Japan was founded in 1982 by the Sakai family, a paper wholesaler in Matsumoto, who collected Ukiyo-e, otherwise known as Japanese woodblock prints.

The fascinating museum was established in 1982 to preserve the valuable private collection.

Ukiyo-e is a type of Japanese painting that originated in the Edo period (1603-1868) and depicts scenes, people, and life in the hedonistic Ukiyoe world of the time.

Japan Ukiyo e Museum
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum

At a time when the only painting medium was black ink, colorful paintings using plant dyes such as safflower and indigo appeared. In addition to paintings, prints were mass-produced, and it can be said that this was a period when the general public began to enjoy art.

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum

Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum
Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum

The fascinating Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum, located in a scenic wooded area on the outskirts of Matsumoto, was founded in 1962 by Taro Maruyama, who ran a craft shop in the Nakamachi district.

The philosophy behind the museum is “Beautiful things are beautiful” and no explanation is needed. It focuses on the beauty of seemingly everyday items and has even created its own movement known as Mingei.

Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum
Folkcraft on display at the Museum

The museum is a warehouse-style building with traditional Japanese walls and a nostalgic atmosphere.

In the nine exhibition rooms, about 700 of the 7000 items in the museum’s collection, including furniture and other furnishings, wooden boxes, traditional clothing, pots, and local household goods, are on display at any one time.

The collection includes not only folk art from Matsumoto but also items collected from Japan and abroad.

Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum

The impressive pottery collection includes a trove of interesting items.

In 1983, the land, building, and all of the collection of the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum were donated to the city of Matsumoto, and it is now operated as a branch of the municipal museum.

Agata no Mori Park

Agatanomori Park Matsumoto
Agatanomori Park Matsumoto

Agata no Mori Park is a picturesque park that is famous for the avenue of cedar trees that runs from the entrance of the park, which has been used as a filming spot for TV dramas and other productions.

Within the park is the Old High School Memorial Hall where visitors can tour the restored classrooms and other facilities.

Agatanomori Park Matsumoto
Agatanomori Park Matsumoto

The park is also home to an old zelkova forest and a Japanese-style garden, both of which are located in the same area as the shrine forest of the Agata Shrine that existed here before the old high school was built.

Benches and tables are set up along the avenue of Himalayan cedar trees and it’s a popular place for local residents to take a stroll.

Nakamachi-Dori Matsumoto folk crafts street

Matsumoto Nakamachi Street
Matsumoto Nakamachi Street

Nakamachi-Dori is known as a street of folk arts and crafts and is a popular street with a retro atmosphere, with its streets lined with earthen storehouses.

The fantastic store named Chikiriya was opened by the late Taro Maruyama, who was influenced by the folk craft movement.

Nakamachi Street Matsumoto
Nakamachi Street Matsumoto

He collected many folk crafts and established the Folk Crafts Museum (now the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum) in the suburbs of Matsumoto.

Chikiriya also offers a variety of folk crafts such as glass, woodwork, ceramics, textiles, bamboo crafts, etc.

Yohashira Shrine

Yohashira Shrine Matsumoto
Yohashira Shrine Matsumoto

The next recommended thing to do in Matsumoto is Yohashira Shrine. The beautiful shrine enshrines four gods: “prosperity,” “academic achievement,” “family safety,” and “health and longevity.

It is also known as the “God of Wishful Thinking,” and is a place of deep faith in the local community. The shrine is only a 10-minute walk from Matsumoto Station and is famous not only for sightseeing but also as a place to seek divine help.

The torii gate of the shrine is usually vermilion in color, but the torii of Yonbashira Shrine is black, which is very unique.

Nawate-Dori Street

Nawate Dori Street Matsumoto
Nawate Shopping Street in Matsumoto

It’s like stepping back in time walking along this unique road. Enjoy strolling through Nawate-Dori Street in the old castle town area.

On the way to the Castle from the station, cross the Chitose Bridge over the Metoba River and you will find Nawate Street.

It is said that the name comes from the long bank of the river which resembles a rope, and the shopping street along the bank is a reproduction of the castle town in the Edo period.

Nawate Dori Street Matsumoto
Nawate Dori Street Matsumoto

The street is lined with stores selling antiques, old-fashioned candy stores, and stylish cafes with terrace seating, creating a nostalgic retro atmosphere.

Tip: There are many great shops for traditional Japanese arts and crafts

Matsumoto Clock and Watch Museum

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum
Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

The Matsumoto Clock and Watch Museum is a museum specializing in clocks and watches, with 110 clocks and related materials on display at any given time.

The museum displays as many clocks and related materials as possible in their working condition, which allows visitors to appreciate the fascination with clocks and watches more deeply.

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum
Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

It also features a gramophone and record appreciation corner, as well as mini-concerts on holidays.

Utsukushigahara Onsen

Utsukushigahara Onsen
Utsukushigahara Onsen

Utsukushigahara Onsen, located on the east side of the city, offers a peaceful hot spring town and historic hot springs.

Utsukushigahara Onsen was once a favorite hot spring of Emperor Temmu, and from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period, it is said to have been a resort for successive lords of Matsumoto.

Utsukushigahara Onsen © HOTEL Shoho
Utsukushigahara Onsen © HOTEL Shoho

There are many inns in the hot spring resort area where visitors can stay overnight, but the Fureai Yamanobe-kan public bathhouse offers day bathing so you can take a dip without needing to stay at a ryokan for the night.

Former Kaichi School

Former Kaichi School Matsumoto
Former Kaichi School Matsumoto

A much beloved national treasure the Former Kaichi School building was built in 1876 in a quasi-Western style in the early Meiji era. It is an outstanding example of elementary school architecture of the modern era.

It is a very rare school building with interior decorations such as beautiful stained glass and extravagant lighting fixtures.

Former Kaichi School Matsumoto
Lights of the Former Kaichi School in Matsumoto

As well to the unique building’s design itself, there is also a fascinating display of educational text and equipment that give an insight into the education of Japan’s young ones as they strived to rapidly modernize and enter the world stage.

Kamikochi

Kamikochi Kappa Bridge
Kamikochi Kappa Bridge

Located in the Chubu-Sangaku National Park area, Kamikochi is an alpine valley. Known as one of the best mountain scenic spots in Japan, it is designated as a national special scenic spot and a special natural monument.

It is also home to hotels, lodges, and other lodging facilities, and as the gateway to the Northern Alps, it attracts many tourists, especially mountain climbers and photographers.

Kamikochi Taisho Pond
Kamikochi Taisho Pond

Since the use of private cars is restricted to protect the environment, shuttle buses and cabs are recommended.

The clear air and unique scenery will strike your heart in this wonderful place.

Daio Wasabi Farm

Cherry Blossom at Daio Wasabi Farm
Cherry Blossom Season at the  Wasabi Farm

30 minutes by train from Matsumoto Station, Azumino City sitting at the foot of the Northern Alps, is probably the most famous wasabi-growing area in the archipelago.

The Daio Wasabi Farm, which has the largest wasabi fields in Japan, is a popular place to visit where can freely walk around the grounds, eat at their restaurants or learn about wasabi in a hands-on manner.

Enjoy the taste of real wasabi farm fresh
Enjoy the taste of real wasabi farm fresh

High-quality wasabi grown in melted snow from the Northern Alps has a unique taste and a refreshing aroma that wafts through the nose. This is completely different from the green horse radish paste that is always past off as wasabi and that you may be used to.

Farm Water Wheel
Farm Water Wheel

There are more than 100 wasabi fields in the Hotaka area of Azumino City, but the most famous and vast of all is the Daio Wasabi Farm, a must-visit farm stretching approximately 1 km from north to south and boasting an area of 15 hectares.

The Farm alone produces about 10% of Japan’s total wasabi production.

Wasabi icecream time
Wasabi icecream time

The Wasabi Farm is open to the public, and admission is free with a total of 1.2 million visitors a year, it has become a popular thing to do when visiting the Matsumoto area and has been awarded a star in the Michelin Green Guide.

In addition to the beautiful wasabi fields, there is a souvenir shop, a food court, and a restaurant where visitors can taste delicious wasabi dishes while enjoying the vast wasabi field scenery and beautiful spring water.

The Town Sneaker Bus

Matumotos Town Sneaker Bus
Matsumoto’s Town Sneaker Bus

One of the best things about Matsumoto is that is an easy city to get around. The castle is within easy walking distance from Matsumoto Station and the streets of the town have a unique feel that makes walking around a pleasant part of the experience.

There is also the quirkily named and decorated Town Sneaker Bus that will sneak you around town to all the places you will want to visit.

The bus is unmissable with its distinctive red and white spotted design. The fare is 200 yen per trip but we recommend getting the all-day pass that is just 500 yen and will allow unlimited travel for the whole day and give you some discount entry tickets for selected attractions.

A Few More Things To Do In Matsumoto And Nagano Prefecture

There are many more things to do in Matsumoto if you have time. Here are a few more suggestions.

  • Meet the wonderful Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park
  • Take the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Across the Japanese Alps to Toyama
  • Eat Soba Noodles and local wasabi in Matsumoto
  • Visit Asama Onsen Town and stay at a Japanese Inn
  • Visit Ishii Miso Brewery to learn all about the craft of miso making.
  • Enjoy the powder snow at the Norikura Ski Resort
  • Go for a hike up one of the many walking trails near Matsumoto
  • Take a stroll along the charming Azusa river
  • Hit the town in central Matsumoto where there are many great Izakaya, restaurants, and bars